Fixing the Unfixable?

The financially lucrative business of match-fixing has been an existing problem for almost 100 years and it is becoming ever more prominent in sport today.

Despite Europe’s high regulation and reputable integrity of its betting markets, corruption costs the European economy £99 billion annually. On the other hand, the Asian markets are largely corrupt, illegal and absent of regulation.

The consequences of match-fixing are apparent in three forms:

  • Penalties from governing bodies;
  • Criminal sanctions; and
  • Reputational damage

The relevant laws that “attempt” to govern match-fixing are the Corruption Act 1906, which carries a maximum seven years’ imprisonment; The Criminal Law Act 1977 and the UK Gambling Act 2005, which carries a maximum of two years’ imprisonment. However, are these deterrents enough to stall the increasing problem of match-fixing?

Sport should be free, unpredictable and exciting for both participants and supporters. Match-fixing poses a very real threat to the foundations of sport. We live in a globalised society encompassed with various national policies, investigatory measures and legislation. Nonetheless, how is it possible to catch up and punish an international crime such as match-fixing when it exists on such a huge scale?

For example, a football match may be fixed in Singapore, affect a game being played in Belgium and the betting fraud could have been carried out in Australia.

A new Gambling Bill is currently passing through the UK parliament that seeks to tighten regulation in this area. It will ensure that gambling operators will have to be licenced in the UK to accept bets. This again is a deterrent rather than a prevention and, as has been proven, is not enough.

In order to tackle vast, global and organised match-fixing, we too have to be vast, global and organised. Concerted action needs to be taken and awareness of match-fixing is key. Agreements with betting operators and companies who monitor the betting markets should be advanced, and special anti-fraud organisations with adequate budgets should be established.

Whistleblowing is a potential solution. Whistleblowing is the disclosure of information related to fraudulent or illegal activities that concern the public interest. The difficulty of enforcing this is protecting those who disclose such information. Worldwide reforms would be needed to offer such protection, especially in the Asian regions where the harmonisation of whistleblowing would prove almost impossible due to the prominence of match-fixing.

Another potential solution is the confiscating of assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. This would include confiscating any money gained from match-fixing which falls under fraud. Criminal sanctions are available through “Confiscation Orders”, but the offender will need to have repeatedly match-fixed over a number of matches. They must also have benefitted from at least £5,000 from ongoing match-fixing. Although a useful tool to punish offenders, only time will tell whether it will be a true prevention undermining the appeal of match-fixing.

There is an urgent need for drastic action on match-fixing – to protect the integrity of sport and to safeguard its free and unpredictable nature. Sporting bodies, organisations and betting operators need to truly work together to make a change. Punishment is important. Prevention is vital.

Daniel De Saulles is an LPC student at the University of Law, Birmingham. Read all his sports blogs for Lawyer 2B.